When September 11th Comes up in the Classroom

We are approaching the anniversary of September 11th, and you may find yourself fielding questions from students and children.  We have compiled a list of helpful tips for navigating these conversations and answering tough questions they might have.

By Momentous Institute | Sep 08, 2021
When September 11 Comes Up In The Classrooms

We are approaching the anniversary of September 11th, and while we observe this anniversary every year, on this 20th anniversary, you may find yourself fielding more questions from students and children. Most adults have memories of exactly where we were when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center buildings. Memories of fear, loss, nervousness, uncertainty and sadness. Students today, however, did not live through the events of that day. To them, it is a historical event that they may have questions about after hearing about it from their parents or news outlets.

Discussing September 11th with young children can be tricky because they are often too young to fully comprehend the events that led up to the attacks, the attacks themselves and the aftermath.  We have compiled a list of helpful tips for navigating these conversations and answering tough questions your students might have.

Things to remember when discussing September 11th:

Be honest. The answers to some students’ questions may be tough, but it is important to be honest in your answers.

Consider the age of your students. Your answer for an eight-year-old will be different than your answer for a fifteen-year-old. This topic may not be appropriate for preschoolers, but in the event they ask a question about it, answer it as best as you can in terms they will understand.

Find out what they know. When a student asks a question about September 11th, it can be helpful to first find out what they already know. Gauging where their knowledge is can better help you answer their questions.

Create a safe place to have conversations. Whether you are talking to a student one-on-one or as a class, you should keep your own emotions in check. Talking about September 11th can be difficult for adults because it is an event we vividly remember. However, when discussing it with students it is important to discuss it as neutrally as possible. We have a separate post that discusses ways you can honor your own feelings about September 11th.

Gather information from reputable sources. There are many resources available, such as the 9/11 Memorial and Museum website. We have included a few links to resources at the bottom of this post.

Be prepared for inaccurate or possibly offensive questions. Children often ask questions about things they have heard, and it’s possible they have received misinformation from other children or adults. Some questions may contain harmless inaccuracies, such as citing the wrong number of airplanes that were involved. Some comments or questions may be offensive, such as comments about certain groups of people. Harmless inaccuracies can be easily corrected. Questions that are potentially harmful should be addressed in a gentle way. Children are often repeating what they’ve heard and the misinformation needs to be replaced with accurate information. It is important to be objective and not assign judgment to their initial statement or question.

Questions and Answers

We have brainstormed a few questions you might be asked and provided some example answers.

What Happened on 9/11?

September 11th is a day when a tragic event happened in the United States. A small group of people who were upset with the United States attacked the World Trade Centers in New York. They flew airplanes into the buildings and as a result, the buildings collapsed. Many people died that day and it makes people sad to remember what happened. On the anniversary each year, we remember those who died with a moment of silence.

Why did 9/11 happen?

We know that there was a group of people who did not like the United States and wanted to make their dislike known. They chose to let the world know that they disliked the United States by hurting people.

What happened after 9/11?

Many people were very angry and sad after 9/11. Many of us who remember that day still feel anger and sadness when we think about it. After 9/11, many things changed. There were a lot of new policies put in place to help prevent an attack like that from happening again. You might be familiar with some of these policies. Has anyone ever flown on an airplane? When you go to fly on an airplane, you have to go through the security line where adults have to take off their shoes and put certain items in bins that get screened. This is something that started after 9/11. Before 9/11, traveling by airplane was very different.

What do you remember about 9/11?

Be honest and tell your story. It is okay to explain to your students where you were and how you felt that day, but it is important to keep your emotions in check as you explain.

Discussing September 11th with students can be challenging, as it is an event that we still feel the impact of daily even twenty years later. Students may need a moment to process their emotions after the discussion. Taking a moment to breathe as a class can help students refocus and return to calm. You may also need to remind students that you are discussing something that happened in the past and that they are currently safe with you in the classroom. When ending any discussion about September 11th with students, you want to place an emphasis on hope. Remind students that even though something tragic and sad happened, we can learn from the past and work to make the world a better place by being kind, having compassion and hoping for better days to come. 


Additional Resources:

Books:

  • Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein
  • Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin
  • September 11 Then and Now by Peter Benoit
  • Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maria Kalman
  • Branches of Hope by Ann Magee
  • I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis